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2008/04/02

Colon Cancer: Round Two

I am not positive what it is that Timothy Billy is afraid of. Our contact person with the cancer treatment center explained that we (the reporter and myself) were interested in a personal story, how cancer was affecting him. She told him that we were coming to interview him and take some photographs. When we arrived at his home we introduced ourselves and with my two Nikon dslr cameras and Domke bag over my shoulder it was obvious to anybody that I was there to make some photographs.

I deferred to Elizabeth, letting her conduct her interview and listening for something that would make a unique image. Near the end of the interview he said it - he had been writing in journals for years. At first the journals were about daily events, but since his first bout with colon cancer, and now that it was back for a second time, the journals shifted to be a record of his health, his medical and physical ordeals. "Now there is something unique that will make a telling portrait," I thought. Surround him with his journals. Make a portrait of him in his usual writing space.

That's when Elizabeth wrapped up the interview and he suddenly announced that he did not want his name, and especially not his photo, in the newspaper. So now what?

To her credit, Elizabeth did some talking and after a few minutes he agreed to let us use his name. She also suggested a photo of him that didn't really show him. Since his cancer is, in his opinion, linked to the uranium accident in nearby Churchrock in 1979, and how the water was contaminated, he agreed to have a portrait taken of himself looking out over the river. In profile, with a wide angle lens.

His is an interesting story. I only wish that he had not changed his mind about access, and kept me from making what would have been a stronger and more intimate image to tell of his ordeal.

Timothy Billy looks out over the Rio Puerco on Wednesday near his father's house in Manuelito, NM. Billy is battling colon cancer for the second time in two years, and speculates that his exposure to uranium tainted water in the 1970's could be an explanation for his cancer, and his brother and sister also having cancer.
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